Otherwise known as the album Axl tried to kill, Guns n' Roses' Greatest Hits is essentially a last-ditch effort by Geffen to get some GNR product, any GNR product out on the shelves. And, really, who can blame them? When they originally planned to release the disc in time for Christmas 2003, they had been waiting 12 years for a new album of original material from Guns n' Roses, and despite a flurry of activity in the fall of 2002 -- Axl unveiling his Frankenband at the MTV Video Awards then took them out on a tour that imploded almost immediately -- the label was still waiting for the forever-delayed Chinese Democracy a year later, so they were set to rush it out for holiday sales. While it didn't materialize for that season, it was ready to surface in March 2004, when Rose, supported by his numerous ex-bandmates, filed a lawsuit against Geffen claiming the record was unauthorized, would do damage to their reputation, and distract from Chinese Democracy, which was, of course, no closer to completion than it was a year prior. A week before its scheduled release, a federal judge denied the band's request for an injunction, and the record came out on March 23, 2004.
Was it worth a lawsuit? For Geffen, probably, since it's good for them to get new GNR in the stores, but it's also easy to see why the band was irked by Greatest Hits, since it bears all the hallmarks of a slapdash compilation, hastily assembled by the label as a way to buy time between releases. There are no liner notes, the cardboard packaging is flimsy, the remastering isn't notable, and any compilation that contains more songs from The Spaghetti Incident? than G N' R Lies is unbalanced. That said, it does offer the biggest hits -- "Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child o' Mine," "Patience," "Paradise City," "Don't Cry," "You Could Be Mine," "November Rain," "Live and Let Die" -- which may satisfy some fans. Still, there's not only a number of hits and important songs missing -- anywhere from the charting singles "Nightrain" and "Estranged" to the essential album tracks "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," and "Used to Love Her," among many others -- the preponderance of epics, ballads, and covers (a full five of the record's 14 tracks are covers, including their horrid version of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," previously unavailable on any GNR record) gives an inaccurate portrait of the band, effectively neutering its reckless rage. It also could be argued that this is all a question of semantics, since this is the "greatest hits" not the "best of," and all of these tracks were big radio hits and therefore fulfilling the promise of the title. However, Guns N' Roses aren't necessarily a band that's well suited to hits compilations, since their albums capture the raw, messy vitality of their music. Here, they sound tamer than they ever were, even if the song selection does follow the charts closely. But even if you sympathize with the band's argument that this is not an especially flattering picture of the band, it's easier to sympathize with the label since there are undoubtedly some fans that would like a hits comp, no matter how uneven it is, but the label has been stuck with no more than a whisper of a promise of a new GNR record for so long they've been left to manufacture their own. If that angers Axl, maybe he should finish that damn album while a handful of people still care.